Never underestimate the power of a scary monster. The werewolf from An American Werewolf in London, the Kothoga from The Relic, the Cloverfield monster from Cloverfield, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and any monster that’s made it on screen from the mind of Guillermo del Toro. They all have an extra something that separates them from the pack. Rick Baker’s approach to the wolf for American Werewolf, for instance, prioritized menace by accentuating its angry and expressive green eyes. Milicent Patrick’s design for the Creature from the Black Lagoon (the only monster from the Universal classics created by a woman) went for a sense of the ancient, with big eyes and an overall look that made it feel like it was the deadliest thing underwater. These focal points added to the monster’s mystique and gave them a deeper sense of narrative.


Ben Brewer’s Arcadian, a creature feature led by stellar performances from Nicholas Cage, Maxwell Jenkins, Jaeden Martell, and Sadie Soverall, can add its name to the iconic monster list with its nightmarish creation. Designed by the director and his brother Alex Brewer, Arcadian’s creature is frightening enough to make an already smartly written tale into an unforgettable horror film. While I’m not one to clamor for horror sequels as they tend to dip in quality more often than not, I wouldn’t mind another trip to this story just to see more of the monsters in it.

The movie follows Paul (played by Cage) and his two sons, Joseph (Martell) and Thomas (Jenkins) as they survive in a world overrun by nocturnal monsters that look like the forced evolution of multiple species rolled into one. Paul is a strong role model that’s trying to raise two survival-ready teens so they can have a chance to live in an aggressively hostile world.

Paul is constantly met with the struggles of parenthood, and he can only work with his sons in daylight. Night belongs to the monsters. Joseph and Thomas must navigate this while also trying to be normal kids, which gets more complicated when one of the brothers falls in love with another survivor in a neighboring farm (played by Soverall).


Director Brewer succeeds in creating a nuanced take on the idea of knowing when kids are ready to face the extreme dangers of the real world without parental supervision. It doesn’t condemn the parent nor frame the kids as arrogant knowhows that argue adults are just obstacle to growth. It’s more about the personal ecosystem families create and how necessary it is to nurture them.

Cage, Jenkins, and Martell create a relatable familial unit where an awareness of consequences decides maturity and survivability. They naturally bump off each other to show that growing up is a mess of highs and lows that need to be addressed rather than be accepted as things that just happen. It’s refreshing and fluid, not forced or didactic. It invites conversation and is unafraid to go to uncomfortable and ugly places to build upon its characters.

The monsters come in to make the point hit even harder by showcasing their ability to hunt for the remaining humans as a unit, one that can pivot and adapt to surprising lengths. There’s just no way anyone can go at these things solo and have a good chance of making it. Nor is it easy to witness their behavior without company. They terrify thanks to Brewer’s commitment to their overall strangeness.


The creature designs are quite simply brilliant. Brewer has gone on record saying Goofy, the Disney character, was a source of inspiration. This should be taken more in terms of physical proportions and exaggeration, because the result is anything but cartoony. The monsters move around on all fours and have elongated heads, almost like a horse. Black hair covers their bodies and weird shapes adorn their faces. But then you see their teeth and what they can do with their jaws, all of which gets even scarier once they reveal an extra ability they have that involves their abdominal area, and things start getting unsettling beyond comprehension. On top of that, once you think you’ve seen all they can do, they pull off one last trick that multiplies the amount of horror they bring.

They need to be seen to be believed. And once you’ve seen them, they’ll stay with you. Everything relating to their heads and their mouths, well, you’ll know.

What’s important is that they’re worthy of the story Brewer and screenwriter Michael Nilon put together. They make sense as the film’s source of terror thanks to their capacity to put the idea of survival into perspective. The type of threat they represent demands Paul and his sons plan accordingly. In a way, they scare survivors into preparedness. That’s why their design is so important. Like the movie monsters before it, Arcadian’s are of the kind that make a story go from good to exceptional because they add so much to the narrative. So don’t look away when they’re on-screen. Admiring them is worth the nightmares.


  1. The movie only played for a couple of weeks but I made the effort to travel to an outlier theatre to see it on it’s last day. I would’ve passed but I happened to read a Rex Reed review, who amazingly, liked most everything about it. The acting was quality and the monsters were cool. Lots of tension. Should be on pay-TV shortly. Give it a look!

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